Friday, 24 June 2011


I was tidying my attic when I found, I don't know how it came there, a copy of Pulman's Weekly dated Tuesday, October 15, 1907. It contained the following report under the title: "Russian Steamer(sic) wrecked near Exmouth":

"A Russian three-masted fore and aft schooner, name unknown, from the Baltic, with timber for Messrs Sharpe, Exmouth, went ashore on Thursday afternoon one and a half miles from Exmouth. She rolled badly, and the sea washing over her, the crew sought safety in the rigging.

The lifeboat was unable to rescue them owing to the blinding surf and sea but eventually the Teignmouth lifeboat, which put off, rode up on the windward side of the schooner and, to the great relief of anxious watchers on the shore, rescued the seamen from a perilous position. As soon as the ship had been abandoned the masts were washed away. The vessel is breaking up."

Despite the headline, the ship, "Viga", was no steamer. It must have been truly desperate for the seamen high in the shrouds looking down at their crippled ship and an angry sea. Messrs Sharpe of Exmouth, to whom they were carrying a cargo, were still selling timber from their vast dockside timber sheds twenty or thirty years ago when I was building my kitchen. B&Q is just not the same somehow. Later in the same newspaper is reported:

"LOOTING A WRECK- The Russian schooner, Viga, which went aground at Exmouth on Thursday, drove further in shore during Friday night and split in half. In the evening the crew boarded the vessel and discovered that she had been looted, two watches, a telescope, silver articles and some clothing being stolen."

Some lightfingered Exmothians got lucky. That Russian telescope will be turning up on the Antiques Roadshow one of these days, you mark my words.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


In the nineteen forties when that classiest of all publishers, Batsford, wanted to add 'The West of England' to the 'British Heritage' series they commissioned the established writer of fairy stories and verses for children,Ruth Manning-Sanders, to write the book. It was an inspired choice.

Ruth Manning-Sanders faced a huge task and necessarily relied on the writings of others to complete it. Nevertheless she is spot on in her comments on Exmouth and she bears witness that, when it comes to the little town taking advantage of its natural glories, the place was as unhappy sixty years ago as it is today. She wrote:

"Exmouth, like Teignmouth, was a Georgian retreat for naval and army officers, but of this period only a few houses, on the Beacon facing the sea, now remain. Away from the sea-front Exmouth is a most depressing network of street after street of execrable buildings. In its busy and somewhat spiderish precoccupation with enlarging its holiday trade, the town has lost whatever native character it once possessed, and so is bound to be depressing, whether in season or out of season, whether its lodging houses are full or empty."

It was true then. It is true now.

When it comes to the Estuary Ruth Manning-Sanders took from that same vein which many a writer has mined before and since:

"From Topsham the estuary extends in a straight wide reach to Exmouth. If you look out from the windows of an ex-G.W.R. train, as it travels up or down the western bank, you may well regard this reach as flat, mud-coloured and uninteresting; but see it from the water-front at Exmouth, and you think very differently. Indeed quite the best thing about Exmouth is the view looking westward, up the grey-blue estuary, backed by the long, wooded heights of Great Haldon; especially at sundown when the waters burn, and the hills fuse their detail into a blue and shaggy silhouette, and day fades in glory behind Haldon's darkening ridge."

The italics are mine.